The Reading Evolution

Reading a paper book is essentially the same experience as it has been for a hundred years and more.

Find a comfortable place with decent lighting, open the book, and start to read. It’s as simple as it is blissful.

In contrast, reading online has to evolve as platforms and formats and hardware does.

It was not all that long ago when the only option for reading something in digital form was on a computer monitor, before iPads and Kindles and smartphones.

My own online reading has once again continued to shift this year.

Let’s look at the platforms, and the hardware.

A while back I was channelling virtually everything through my GMail inbox. This included formal correspondence like updates from my bank, PayPal invoices, and information from the kids’ schools, to entertainment emails from Netflix, Disney + and other channels, to sales offers from my (very few!) favourite clothes stores, to what I would call more serious reading matter – blogs and forums and other sites I followed and wanted to read regularly.

Whilst I like the idea of one source for all of my reading, I didn’t like the jarring experience of going through my inbox and jumping between content with different levels of priority and urgency.

This is fine for a work email account where essentially everything is about work and needs to be dealt with one way or another, but it just feels too wide ranging and fractured for a single personal email account.

So I started using Feedly for all of my reading matter, with GMail for the other every day life stuff.

This seemed to work for a while, but even with relatively few sources (perhaps 25) in Feedly, there’s still a variation in “importance” between different sources to me.

In other words, some feeds I value enough to want to read every post, whereas others I don’t mind missing a few here and there.

Also, whilst it’s not a cast iron theory without exception, I was finding that many of the posts I valued most and don’t want to miss, were often the least frequent. This meant I was missing them, as the lower value (to me) posts were more frequent, and therefore drowning out the other posts.

I don’t want to necessarily read every update from every source, but then when I was dipping in, I wasn’t get the very best posts.

So I’ve kind of drifted from Feedly, and have used it far less in recent months.

Plus I seem to have more coming into my inbox than in a long time.

I generally like to keep at inbox zero (at least the unread posts at zero), but mostly I’m around 30-40 posts unread at any one time, in recent weeks. I don’t like this amount.

A final change is that I been following something called Pocket for some months now.

This is a single daily email that gathers generally pretty interesting articles from a range of sites and presents them in a summary of 10 or so recent posts to click through and read in full.

I don’t read them all, and don’t want to, but perhaps two or three per email give me a steady source of interesting and fairly wide ranging articles.

In terms of hardware, things have continued in the direction they were already heading.

My iPad has been all but donated to my older son, partly for homework (mostly Google Classroom) and partly for games (some educational, some not so much).

I turn to my HP ChromeBook 14 for any typing that’s more than a line or two, and while it’s fine for this, the OS is simple and fast, the battery lasts ages and its very portable, it’s not a particularly pleasant device to use physically.

I think I’ve just been spoilt growing up with PowerBooks and MacBook Pros, which feel so much better, more tactile, responsive and of higher quality than anything else I’ve used by far.

But of course the HP cost about 10% of an equivalent sized Apple device. You pays your money…

Most, in fact nearly all of my reading, is on my Realme 6 Pro phone.

Its screen is large enough that virtually all websites and text can be read as presented, without needing to zoom. It’s fast, direct, super convenient and portable of course, and has a lovely screen, leagues superior to the HP Chromebook screen for example.

So what needs to change?

Sticking with hardware, I don’t think much needs to.

I still enjoy using a proper keyboard, so the ChromeBook remains the best option.

I’ve thought about getting a better external keyboard (like an Apple one!) but it seems pointless when it would mean the ChromeBook was then tied to a desk essentially. And most of the time I use it on my lap on the sofa or in the car.

For reading, the Realme has no downside really. If I want to view/edit photographs at a large size, I hook up the ChromeBook to my external 27″ monitor, or fire up my old MacBook Pro. But for text, the smartphone ticks all the boxes it needs to.

On the platform/software front, I’ve already started unsubscribing from a number of emails I was getting that were far from essential, which is decluttering my inbox already.

With Feedly, I almost feel like I need to start again, with a few categories.

Rather than everything in one stream called “Reading”, maybe have one for my absolute favourite four or five sources, then another for all the rest?

As I’ve found in other parts of my life, when I have too many options, or too much incoming, I tend to ignore all of it.

My choice becomes to make no choice, and walk away, much like that sales mantra that a confused customer will walk away without making a purchase.

Which is what has happened to an extent with Feedly in the last year.

It’s probably also a good time to go through Feedly (and continue this in GMail) and be ruthless in removing sources I’m not so interested in any longer, or which haven’t posted lately.

I’d also like to have Pocket come into Feedly rather than GMail, but I can’t quite figure out how. There is a webpage equivalent of the content of the daily newsletter (https://api.getpocket.com/explore/pocket-hits/) but it won’t load into Feedly, I guess it’s not the right format.

This examples illustrates that my approach of using GMail and Feedly of course isn’t perfect.

There are some sources that fit one platform better than the other on the technical front, even if I’d rather have them in the other one (hello, Pocket).

I have also considered setting up automatic filters in GMail so emails from certain sources get redirected into sub folders of my inbox.

But that just feels a bit too fiddly and I think I’d just ignore whole folders full of stuff that I would like to read, just because the set up was too fractured again.

So I’ll continue tweaking and see how the next few months go.

How about you? How do you read online? Which platforms and hardware work best for you?

As always, please share your thoughts below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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8 thoughts on “The Reading Evolution”

  1. I’ve been a Mac since November 2005, and I bought my first iPad in April 2010. So no surprise, I’m still using a Mac (27” iMac) and iPad (Pro).
    I’m don’t used email to read newsletters or catch up with blogs. Email is for work-related messaging and personal correspondence, and notifications from banks, utilities, etc.
    RSS (Really Simple Syndication) was offered free to the world 22 years ago on March 15, 1999. I started using it a few months after that. RSS has been the primary method for keeping up with any source that supports it (mostly blogs).
    For RSS, I used Google Reader for many years, but when Google abandoned the product, I searched and found replacements.
    I’ve tried Feedly, River 2, Fever, Reeder, and several others, but I’ve used Reeder exclusively for several years. Reeder is cross-platform, running on macOS, iPad OS and iOS. The app team have provided continuous improvement over the years, and I think the app is feature complete. I originally paid a yearly fee to use a feed aggregation service, Feedbin. The Feedbin service also provided the ability to sync my reading status across my drives. However, Reeder just started leveraging iCloud sync.
    I have struggled with managing the feeds that are firehoses. Over the years, I’ve performed multiple spring cleanings and reorganisation of sources. Feeds that update frequently, mainly very popular Apple, cyber security, and photography websites, are corralled under the “news” category. Then I’ve broken down the lower volume photography feeds into “bloggers”, then Fuji, and finally film. The Fuji feeds, and the film feeds are low volume, so keeping up is easy.
    I’ve had a Gmail account since the beta launched in 2004. But several years ago, I decided that instead of using a free service, where I’m the product, I would happily pay to host my email. Gmail is where all the low-value email goes. I was a big fan of all things Google, but as I became increasingly concerned with privacy, I started a move away from their services.

  2. Dan, I use two email accounts one for important emails and the other for my studies and nowadays attracts a lot of junk mail. I use my lap top and iPhone to access these accounts depending on time constraints and what else I am doing. FOr instance if I am doing extensive study i get on my lap top whereas my iPhone is for quick access of emails and information. I find this works well for me. I am not familiar with many things you mentioned but don’t feel the need to pursue further information on them at this time

    1. That’s a good idea having a more casual email account then a more serious one.

      Yeh I know what you mean about quick access, most of the time I read it’s only for a matter of minutes so it’s not worth getting my ChromeBook out when my phone is right there and ready in a second.

  3. During the day, I’ll read a little news on my iPhone, I’m a paying subscriber to a variety of dailies. This is provided my reading glasses are handy. In the evening, if I have time I precariously balance two pillows behind my MacBook Pro with it propped on my chest with the screen facing down, when I’m laying in bed. that’s how I do any pleasure reading on the. computer. it looks pretty goofy but I like being off my feet and not in a chair 🙂

    and like Steve Mitchell, I like books. No, I LOVE books.

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